Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Airy scary fairy tales

Some of the fairy tales that I read as a child were really quite gruesome, in retrospect… but at the time, I just read them as I read everything else – with an all-conquering greed for new reading material. You’d think I’d be permanently scarred from them - as per the pop-psychologists who say that children shouldn’t read Grimm’s fairy tales or listen to nursery rhymes like “Rock-a-bye baby” and so on, for fear of becoming nervous wrecks. They ignore the fact that real life events all over the world are far more horrible than any fair tale could conjure up.

Anyway, I’m not scarred and nor am I a nervous wreck merely because my mind remembers some of the grimmer bits. I put that sort of memory down to the brain’s – specifically, MY brain’s - ability to retain totally irrelevant and unnecessary bits of fiction (and some facts too) while letting the bulk of useful information slip through peacefully. (Yes, it wasn’t conducive towards successfully passing exams during my school days. Such is life. You’d think that all the random trivia would at least be useful in social situations and make me the life of the party. But no – anytime I need to break the ice or an awkward silence, those facts unhelpfully vanish, only to pop up again when they are not required. Such, again, is life.)

Like I was saying, some things have just stuck in my memory, even though sometimes I can’t remember the rest of the story – like the one about the little girl wearing a giant’s magic ring on her little finger. She was trying to escape from him but the ring kept shouting out “this way, this way”. The solution? Cutting off her little finger and throwing it into a river, thereby getting rid of the giant because he followed the sound, fell in the river and drowned. Ugh. Cold-blooded little girl. Maybe she was a thief as well – I’m not sure why she was wearing the magic ring which belonged to the giant!

The story of Hansel and Gretel was favourite for some real chills... cannibalistic intentions on the part of the evil witch, and then the way she was killed, burnt in her own oven. Definitely double ugh. However, as a child, the horror of the situation – and the agony of being burnt alive – simply did not occur to me. All I thought was “Hooray, they escaped the evil witch!” Maybe I was just an insensitive child - who knows - but the average 7 year old shouldn’t be able to imagine anything more specific than that, don’t you think?

As an adult, though, I have spent many shuddery moments imagining how it would have felt to be burnt alive, and have your screams ignored. That’s possibly one of the most horrible ways to die and just thinking about real-life events, like in Godhra, make me feel ill. What fairy tale could possibly be more frightening than real life? If a child can watch gory movies, or the news even, without being moved, fairy tales witches and monsters are hardly likely to bother him or her. In any case, today’s children have much more real terrors – murderers, kidnappers, paedophiles, school bullies… Reality provides so much more horror than fiction nowadays.

My dad had a 10-book Encyclopedia collection – quite old and outdated, possibly from the 1950s, and a treat to read – in which I first read Thomas Millington’s tragic poem “The Babes in the Wood”. That touched me unbearably… I could dissolve in tears just thinking about how the abandoned children who died in each other’s arms were covered in leaves by kindly robins. For some reason, it was the mention of the robins that always did me in. Maybe something to do with the fact that the birds showed more compassion than the humans. I had quite a phobia about being abandoned – by mistake (hopefully...) rather than intention – which overcame common sense for far longer than I care to remember.

And how about the story of Cinderella? The ugly stepsisters were forced to mutilate their feet to try and fit them in the glass slippers. Me being the shoe-size (basically, boat) I am, I’ve had some very dark thoughts about that, I can tell you…

9 comments:

Teesu (very very Indian, very very good) said...

WHAT a treat this post of yours is to read! I completely agree with you on the fairy tales. Now when I read them to T, I skip or modify the unhappy or aggressive bits (like 'YOU WILL PRICK YOUR FINGER ON A SPINDLE...AND DIE!' This with me now becomes 'You will prick your finger and fall down!'). I am uncomfortably aware of the real meanings but as a child, loved them and same as you, the Hooray parts stuck rather than the burning or the gruesome killing of ulgly, mean old witches. Basically good triumphing over bad was the message. THAT should still be cool, right given the amount of 'evil' currently at the forefront?

Big feet run in the family. Sigh.

And...I know you had a phobia about being abandoned ANYWAYS, since I BELIEVE your mom could not go to the loo even, in peace;)

just another mommy said...

I too don't remember being scarred by the fairy tales. I even acted as the wicked stepmother of Hansel and Gretel in a school play!

But you are right about "Reality provides so much more horror than fiction nowadays". I think that's why we are so paranoid and worry so much!

Berry Blog said...

a longtitudinal study ( which I can't remember the source to quote now) had two groups of children one of which they left the monsters and negatives out of the stories, and a group in which they kept all the Grimm Brother monsters. they found that in their 20s, the kids who were protected from the negative images, had nore problems they couldn't deal with than the kids who had them included. The protected kids had no idea how to cope with their troubles and their fears ran away with them. They determined that the fears are archetypal and help kids grow.
Just a tidbit for consideration.
You always have interesting things to talk about.
....Old Charlie in Maine

mg said...

Not scarred by the scary bits either...and had the same reaction to Hansel and Gretel.

umm oviya said...

i do get worried reading these fairy tales or allowing her to read it. all the handsome princes and beautiful dumb princesses... but i don't stop her. though i do enjoy the evil step mother bit, that will make sure R never finds another, 'cos O will give him such grief. ;) evil me!

Kamini said...

Reading all the modern day analyses of fairy tales, I am shocked! I never imagined the dark and dire undercurrents that these analysts manage to bring up! So much better to read them as an innocent child, as good old black and white good vs evil stories.Maybe I just lacked imagination!

Anil P said...

Continuous assault of the senses by graphic illustrations of violence can numb the senses to an extent that one might begin to lose sensitivity to another's pain. This I feel could be the case now with all the 24x7 exposure in the media.

Kamini said...

Wishing you, your family and all your readers a wonderful and happy New Year, and looking forward to tons of great writing from you in 2009,
Kamini.

umm oviya said...

tagged...